This summer, there is a different feel to pre-season for, not just Cumbrian Phil Dowson and the rest of Northampton Saints’ coaching staff, but for virtually all top-level domestic rugby clubs.

Now four weeks from the start of the tournament, there is much excitement ahead of the Rugby World Cup. The timing of when the competition takes places has, however, meant a delayed kick-off to the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season.

Northampton Saints, where 37-year-old Dowson is forwards coach, will visit defending champions Saracens in their opener on October 19.

And with a host of Saints players on international duty, former England ace Dowson accepts there has been a different tone to pre-season training at Franklin’s Gardens.

“Yeah, definitely. Also Chris Boyd, our director of rugby, was new last year so now, with a year under our belt, we are established in terms of what he is after,” admits Dowson who was raised in Caldbeck and who first took up the game at Wigton Rugby Club.

“So, there is a bit of continuity on that front, we have a good idea of how he wants to play the game.

“But it is disjointed with players away and a delayed start.

"We are enjoying the extra time and it means we can get extra things covered but, at the same time, we don’t want to get stale by spending too much time in the gym or on the back pitch.”

And the extra time in this close-season has allowed Dowson, who returned as a Northampton coach in 2017, having enjoyed a successful six-year playing stint with the club, and Saints to experiment.

“We get more time which is normally a luxury that you don’t have. It’s a good opportunity for us to make sure we are fully prepped for when the time [the start of the season] comes,” he says.

“But, like I said, you have got to be careful not to overdo it and make the boys stale over a long pre-season.”

Having initially joined Northampton as assistant coach, Dowson last year became the club’s forwards coach.

On his coaching experiences so far, Dowson explains: “It’s been a steep learning curve, I have learnt a lot over the last couple of years.

“The first year was tough – there was a lot flying around, changes of jobs and bits and pieces like that. But, last year, I had a full year of coaching in a single role and had some stability.

"I really enjoyed it. I, obviously, still miss playing but it’s something else to get my teeth into.”

Dowson is working under New Zealander Chris Boyd who is Saints’ director of rugby.

“He has given me a huge amount of backing and he’s given me the opportunity to try different things. He has done lots of stuff in New Zealand with regards to coaching coaches and pathway development across [lots of] sports, not just rugby,” Dowson says of Boyd.

“So, his knowledge and expertise in that area is, obviously, incredible for me. I have really enjoyed it.

"He is very bright, very observant and very shrewd. He doesn’t necessarily always say something while I’m coaching.

“Sometimes, we might have a cup of tea afterwards and he gives me different ideas and [he would] quiz me, very gently, on how I could improve my sessions.

"He has a really good manner, and he is a really funny man, so I’m enjoying it at the moment.”

Last season, the Black, Green and Golds clinched a top-four finish for the first time since 2015 under Boyd.

Guildford-born Dowson hopes the side can compete at the right end of the table this time around, as well.

He says: “I think, obviously, we have to strive to be there. Everyone was talking about how competitive the league was last year, but I think it will be more competitive this year.

“We have to keep evolving. The flip side of Chris Boyd being here for his second year is that everyone knows what to expect from us in terms of our style of play. So, we have to keep improving and evolving our game.

“It will be a huge challenge but, of course, we want to be finishing as high up the league as we possibly can. We want to be challenging for silverware.”

After he left Newcastle Falcons a decade ago, Dowson has since been based away from the north of England.

“It’s been good, I have been here a long time now. I moved here from Newcastle in 2009, and I have been [based in] both East and West Midlands,” he explains. 

“I miss the North. I miss Newcastle and I miss the Lake District and [Caldbeck in] Cumbria, where I grew up. I probably didn’t really appreciate it when I was growing up.

"But it’s stunning. I miss the landscape in the North West, but the Midlands has its plus points, as well, and my wife and I are very happy here.”